"Lovers of the genre ... [will] appreciate the virginal sexual tension, the snarled das and nyets, the testosterone-fueled feuds and the titillating glimpses of tragic history."--Kirkus Reviews
"A creative twist"--RT Book Review
"I really loved this installment in the 13 to Life series, and I can't wait for the next one."--TheBookHeist.com
PRAISE for 13 to Life:
"A unique tale with a bright heroine and dark secrets.” - New York Times Bestselling YA author Maria V. Snyder
"You'll devour 13 to Life in greedy, eager gulps. Pitch-perfect and deliciously paced, this book dishes up your next fiction addiction. Shannon is a rising star!" --Ann Aguirre, national bestselling author of Grimspace and Doubleblind
"A fun, gothic romance of suspense, secrets and the dangerous truth behind the new kid in town." -Lucienne Diver, author of Vamped and Revamped
Jessie and Pietr’s bond is sweet and real, with more than a touch of delicious danger.” –Jeri Smith-Ready, Award-Winning author of Shade and Bad to the Bone
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A little more than a year ago
In a seemingly standard suburban sprawl outside the city of Farthington something has gone wrong. Sharp sidewalks and carefully clipped lawns hem in the town houses and flank the expected allotment of single homes. It's a quiet neighborhood, where everyone appears to know everyone else. But things are not always as they seem, and people are seldom only what their neighbors expect.
In one such innocuous yard a man naturally inclined to an animal grace staggers. Tall and broad shouldered like his elder son Max, and lean as his youngest, Pietr, he's dark as any Rusakova, with only a hint of silver in his hair.
Even so young a father, his life is nearly over. Not because of the poor choices he made as a younger man—choices that caused his wife to give their children her name rather than his—but because regardless of how normal the setting seems, Andrei is far from the norm.
He sways by the picket fence, the traditional American symbol for happiness, success—the elusive American dream. But to him, even pretty fences make a common cage. He glares toward the neighbor's house, a powder blue Cape Cod, and his wife lopes out of their home, crossing the yard on quick and quiet feet.
Slender and lithe as their daughter Catherine but with heavy highlights of red streaking her rich brown hair like coppery lightning, Tatiana tilts her head, nostrils flaring in question. Her eyebrows draw together, and she circles him. "Come inside," she pleads, laying a hand on his arm.
He shakes it off like a dog throwing off the rain. Face red with rage, his fiery gaze stays fixed on their neighbor's home. "The way he watches you . . ."
She blushes, fearing the shame is shared although she tempts the man unwittingly. With its very existence the animal that skitters and claws beneath her human skin calls to some men, entices and ensnares their weaker senses.
The door of the blue Cape Cod opens and the man steps out, waving boldly at her. The smile stretching his lips does nothing to mask his unwanted attentions.
The sun slips away, leaving a bloody smear across the southern mountaintops. These are the dangerous hours, when the skin feels loosest on the wolf within and the beast in the human-seeming breast grows more anxious to burst free.
"I will rrrip out his hearrrt—"
As her husband springs across the fence with a snarl, Tatiana fears that although this is not the first time a man has acted indecently toward her, this might be the only time it matters.
It's a race up the broad porch stairs to the neighbor, who doesn't even have enough sense to go inside, bolt the door, and lock himself in a closet—to wait out the dawn and pray for reason to override rage.
Instead he stands there. Spreads his legs in a fighting stance. "Off my porch, Rusakova," he growls.
The sound is nothing compared to the noise tearing out of Andrei. Coursing through his chest, the twisting growl erupts as he takes the porch's final three steps in one smooth leap.
His hands on the man who stares openly at his wife, Andrei's words are too thick with anger to be clear. A growl, a slur—language matters little when actions speak louder than words. And Andrei's actions speak wrath, revenge—hate. So fluently.
The man flops in his grasp, fighting stance forgotten as he screams and lands sloppy and panicked punches on Andrei's face as it twists and pulses and pops. Changes . . .
Someone appears at the window, shoves the curtains aside, mouth drawn into an "o" of terror. The leerer's wife—the mouse he ignores except when he publicly berates her. She thrusts her son from her side, and the curtain falls back across the window.
Behind him, the man's door clicks shut; the lock bolts into place with a slithering sound. There will be no retreat.
Tatiana pushes between the men, grunting with exertion. "Stop," she urges, eyes wide.
Lights flash, coloring the dimming neighborhood quickly falling into dusk with red, white, and blue as a siren wails its way down the normally quiet suburban street.
"Not finished with you," Andrei, half-turned, yowls. He throws the man across his shoulder and lopes around the house, into the tree-filled backyard and the shadows that threaten to solidify beyond.
With a glance toward the street, Tatiana sets her jaw and follows her husband, disappearing into the growing darkness.
A swarm of uniformed officers mount the porch stairs, as one unmarked SUV slips silently past the house, daring to scatter the darkness with its piercing headlights.
In the Rusakovas' home Catherine presses her face to the window, Pietr by her side. Unable to be much help, the twins are more than a year outside their first full change.
Pacing, Alexi refuses to change and go. His shaking fingers drag through his hair, but he rejects Catherine's pleas and ignores Pietr's threats. Begging until her voice is nothing but a reedy whine, Catherine sobs; her tears smear the glass, and the world outside seems to ripple. Pietr pulls her away, silently wrapping her in his arms.
And as vehemently as Alexi refuses to go, there is no place he'd rather be than beside the parents who adopted him and have kept his secret—that he is nothing like his siblings and is simply, horrendously, human.
The one Rusakova—the one wolf—able to help is missing. Spending one more night in the arms of anonymous girls, Max is living his short life as fast as he can.
In the woods not far from the backyard stands the tragic threesome. Tatiana, shaken by frustration into her ruddy wolfskin, circles the rivals for her attention, growling. Andrei releases the man, speaking to the worried wolf in a most guttural Russian. His words impeded by long and pointed teeth, he searches for an explanation, some justification. Distraught, he wavers as his metabolism—his canine bits—burns through the drug or drink that had such a hold on him.
Their neighbor looks around, contemplates escape. His jeans soiled from something fouler than the tears streaking his frightened face, he watches the werewolves warily.
All eyes suddenly focus on something—someone—shrouded in the shadows. The wolf Tatiana howls at the betrayal as a smile once again slides across the leerer's lips.
A sliver of moonlight shimmers across the barrel of a gun swinging into view, giving directions. Tatiana obeys, the wolf stalking to the side. But obedience is too much for Andrei and he lunges, completing his transformation in midair . . .
. . . one moment of fluid grace . . .
. . . brought down by a muzzle flash so bright it blinds.
He falls, pulled from midair with a grunt and a spatter of blood, never to rise again. The copper wolf noses the limp body of her mate, a whimper tearing at her throat. Rage empowering her, she leaps, willing to fall dead at his side, her husband. . . .
A muzzle flash tears at the inky night again and she tumbles to the earth, falling limp.
"So, after the loss of your mother in the car accident, you started work to redeem her amnesiac murderer, met a new boy at school, who you hid your attraction from in order to protect a friend's feelings. Then you learned the boy was being hunted by the CIA—one of their agents who happens to be trying to date your dad . . . hunted because the boy's a werewolf."
There was a long pause. I ran over her summary, mentally ticking off the checklist of the bizarre that my life had so recently been reduced to. "You forgot about the Russian Mafia's involvement and the shoot-out we were in."
Looking at her clipboard, Dr. Jones replied, "Yes. So I did." She jotted something down. "Well. It looks like our time is up." She clicked her pen and set it down definitively on her broad ebony desk. "Your story is absolutely fascinating." She confirmed what I knew too well. "But."
I sat up, the leather couch creaking beneath me. I gave her my best but what? look. I'd talked forever.
As much as I hated to admit it, the school counselors were right. It felt great to get it all out and tell an objective professional. So I waited, looking at her expectantly. She could surely say more than but after all I'd confessed.
"But, if you really want to get past the trauma of your mother's death—which is truly the crux of your situation—you'll need to get real here." She stood, lips twisting.
Get real? I had told her everything. I had risked the Rusakovas to save my own crumbling sense of sanity.
I couldn't help it. I laughed so hard I snorted.
In the two months since I'd met Pietr Rusakova I could number on one hand the times I'd told the truth. The lies? The phrase totally out of hand had special meaning when trying to keep track of them.
But to finally try and straighten things out and be shut down? Not what I expected.
She blinked at me. "Seriously, Jessica. Russian Mafia? Government agents? Werewolves?" She laughed. "I should be like other psychiatrists, I guess, and blindly prescribe something with an exciting new name. But I want to help you get better, not medicate you. I want you to get a grip."
"You don't believe me."
"It's my professional opinion that you're screwing with me. Most kids clam up on their first visit or avoid the heart of their issues. But you"—she glanced at the clipboard—"are an editor for the school newspaper. Surely inventive. So you chose the other route, exhibiting a commendable streak of creativity. But I have a high crap tolerance."
Her voice lowered and she ruffled the corners of her freshly written notes. "You have to, working with kids," she muttered. "You're no more delusional than the average teenager."
"I killed a man." God, for all the notes she seemed to take, did she not listen?
"Yes, Jessica, so you said. But where's the b...